During the summer of 2001, while researching this cookbook, my wife, Penny, and I attended the Fortieth Czech Days Festival in Wilber, Nebraska. Pen, who is mostly Czech, has an aunt and uncle in Wilber, as well as some shirttail cousins. (More about one of her shirttail cousins later.) Wilber, located in Saline County, about 30 miles SW of Lincoln, by Proclamation has been the Czech Capital of the United States since 1987, and of Nebraska since 1963! This three-day festival, held the first weekend in August every year, is a kaleidoscope of activities and color, celebrating Czechoslovakian culture and heritage. For someone like me, who never had witnessed a large ethnic festival, it was a real eye-opener. In addition to those who trace their roots to Czechoslovakia, the festival draws folks from across the country and from around the world. With a population of only about 1600 people it takes the whole town of Wilber to make it all happen.
Besides Czech Days, Wilber has at least one other claim to fame. It's the "Home of the Wilber Weiner"! Karpiscek's Meat Market, a third generation family business located on Main Street, is owned and operated by Russ Karpiscek, Pen's shirttail cousin, and his wife, Jill. This relationship, as defined by Jill's grandmother, is that their grandfathers sometime way back when drank out of the same ditch. Russ, when not in the meat market making "Wilber Wieners" or his award winning beef jerky, serves as the town's mayor! (More about Russ a little later in this story!)
When Pen and I visited her aunt and uncle, Jeannette and Kenny Krupicka, in August of 1999, it was Pen's first trip to Nebraska since she was five years old and the first to their farm northwest of town. Originally, we'd planned to spend just one night and then continue our trip but as sometimes happens, our plans changed. Jeanette and I started talking cookin' and before long we decided to stay the extra day. In looking back, I think things changed when we told Jeanette and Kenny about making homemade sauerkraut. Jeanette proceeded to pull out several cookbooks as well as recipe cards for kraut. Before long we were planning a Dutch oven dinner of roast duck with sauerkraut and dumplings, a Czech favorite, prepared in a Dutch oven. Perhaps Pen's idea of the ethnic cookbook was further reinforced while watching Jeanette and me compare recipes and just talk "cookin'"!
Since they already had a houseguest, Jeanette made arrangements for us to stay in town at the Hotel Wilber, a beautifully restored building dating to 1895. The best way to explain the two nights there is to say it was like staying in a museum! Local families using furniture, linens, and family photos belonging to each family, had individually restored each room with family heirlooms. As an aside, if you ever make it to Czech Days, be sure to check out the Hotel's beer garden, as it's one of the focal points for the whole festival!
Anyway…fast forward to the summer of 2001 with this cookbook already in progress. Pen and I loaded up the truck and headed for Wilber to participate in Czech Days. We made quite a sight with the wall tent set up on a vacant lot next to Karpiscek's Meat Market on Main Street. Among the many activities scheduled for the festival are various demonstrations. Most have to do with Czech heritage, but the committee asked me to be part of the festivities and put on two Dutch oven cooking demonstrations. Besides considering it an honor to be included on a personal note, I knew it would be a great opportunity to swap recipes.
When we pulled out of the drive headed for Wilber, 2100 miles away, we had several objectives in mind. Pen, for obvious reasons, looked forward to experiencing first hand the festival to learn more about her heritage and the chance to visit with relatives. Maybe most importantly, we both hoped to get the cover photo for this cookbook. Neither of us had a clear notion of what we wanted, but we both envisioned festival participants in Czech native dress in front of the wall tent. Russ Karpisek, also known as Pen's shirttail cousin, also known as the town butcher, also known as the mayor of Wilber, also known as a member of the Wilber-Clatonia High School Czech Alumni Marching Band came to our rescue! Before I tell you that story I must tell you a little about "the band"!
In order to be a band member one must be a Wilber-Clatonia High School graduate that participated in high school band or married to a WCHS graduate who participated. Many members travel great distances just for this event. On Thursday night before Czech Days officially begins, the band members, from recent graduates to folks who are forty plus years post high school, gather at the Hotel Wilber Beer Garden to practice. Once the festivities start the band marches in the parade each day and by night they wander downtown Wilber serenading revelers and bar patrons. It's amazing the performance this band is capable of with only one day of practice per year.
Anyway…on Sunday evening as things were winding down and the light waning, Russ rounded up a contingent of band members each in Czech native dress, and brought them by camp. Pen climbed a ladder with several cameras and began quickly snapping pictures. Our photo shoot lasted a total of about ten minutes. The next morning we broke camp and headed west listening to the "Beer Barrel Polka" on a cassette tape of the Wilber-Clatonia High School Alumni Band.
We kept our fingers crossed while waiting for the photos to be developed. Halfway through the third roll, we knew we had a cover for the cookbook! So, come next August, if you're looking for some great food and a good time, call 1-129-324-3297, and head to Wilber, Nebraska.
"I must say this is the best recipe software I have ever owned."
"Your DVO cookbook software saves me time and money!"
"I saw lots of recipe software for PC computers but I was having a hard time finding really good mac recipe software. I'm so glad I discovered Cook'n! It's so nice to have all my recipes in a computer recipe organizer. Cook'n has saved me so much time with meal planning and the recipe nutrition calculator is amazing!!!
My favorite is the Cook'n Recipe App.